What I Learned After Banking My First Million Dollars

To some people, that phrase might sound like the height of arrogance, privilege, and disregard, but hear me out.

I know many entrepreneurs who hustle hard. They’re in the game for one reason: the money. They want fast cars, big yachts, and private jets.

There are others, normal hard working people, who yearn for the big break — a chance to stop worrying about bills, and start enjoying life.

This is normal. After all, who wouldn’t want to earn more, own more, and have it all?

I’m fine with that. Keep hustling. Keep pressing on. Keep giving it all you got!

But what happens once you “arrive?” What happens when you finally earn that first million, when you see the seven-figure number in your bank account, and when you achieve your goal?

I, too, wanted to become rich. I gave it all I got. I worked insane hours, made risky decisions, and hustled like my life depended on it.

Eventually, it happened. I “made it.” I banked a million bucks, and I experienced what it’s all about.

This is my story — how I made a million bucks, and what I learned.

I had a passion for money

When I was a kid, I was always looking for ways to make money.

My parents were immigrants. They worked hard to provide for my sister and I. I grew up as a normal middle class kid.

But I wasn’t content with my middle class life. I wanted to be rich. I was motivated by money, pure and simple.

I also had an entrepreneurial itch, probably because I saw my entrepreneurial uncles make money hand over fist building their own businesses.

In order to get what I wanted in life — lots of money — I asked a basic question: What can I give to other people so that they will give me money in return?

I was in high school at the time. At my high school, a lot of kids were into music. My cousin showed me how to burn CDs, and I started selling CDs to other students.


CD sales weren’t enough, though. I made a few bucks. But already, I was thinking about profit margins (not to mention legality). I decided to scale my operations by selling car parts to the gearheads in my school.

So I worked out a deal with the local car parts company, Island Motorsports, and received a 10% to 25% discount depending on the car part. I then offered other students a 5% to 15% discount off retail, which left enough of a margin for me.

I started making better money, but still not as much as I wanted. I was nowhere near the million dollar mark!

My next thought was, “I will find a high-paying job!”

I tried, but people weren’t hiring high school kids for C-level positions. The only job I could find was scrubbing toilets and picking up trash at Knott’s Berry Farm.

It wasn’t a wasted effort. My pursuit of a job led me into to my first entrepreneurial failure (which is a good thing).


My first entrepreneurial failure gave me my biggest break

While I was scouring the Internet for six-figure jobs for high school juniors, I realized something.

I used job boards to find openings. As I did so, I thought about the business model of these job boards. These sites must be making a killing! Many of these job boards were trading on publicly traded markets for hundreds of millions. Employers pay massive amounts of money to post a job opening.

Heck, I could make a website like this. This was my million-dollar idea! It would be easy!

My plan was simple:

Step 1: Make my own Monster.com.

Step 2: Earn millions.

So I did just that. I built a job board site, and waited for the cash to flow.

Cash did not flow. Nobody visited my website.

My million dollar plan was missing one thing: marketing.

“No problem!” I thought. I’ll pay a marketing firm, and get people to visit my website.

I had a few dollars coming in from my Knott’s Berry Farm job, so I used it to pay a marketing agency. They ripped me off big time.

Sure, they were happy to take my money, but they didn’t do anything to bring me traffic. I even tried a couple more marketing agencies and got zero results. I had stumbled into the scammy world of online marketers.

Since I had thrown all my money away, I had to do the marketing myself. I sat down at my computer and taught myself the basics of Internet marketing.

It worked. My marketing efforts starting bringing people to my job board website. But still, the money wasn’t pouring in like I hoped it would.

Eventually, the job board site went belly up. You won’t find it on the Internet today.

Now, however, I had a valuable skill: Online marketing.


My next attempt at making money was more successful

I had a solid failure under my belt. And I had a new skill.

Although I was still in high school, I decided to take a few college classes. I wanted to finish college in half the time. The first college class I took was Speech 101. Since Internet marketing and search engines were on my mind at the time, I delivered a speech about it.

One of my fellow students heard my speech about online marketing. He introduce me to his boss, and the company decided to use my services.

That’s when I landed my first job that gave me real money. The job paid $3,500 a month, which was serious cash for a high school kid.

While working that job, I found out just how much my skill was worth. I was pulling down $3,500 a month for myself, but my services helped the company earn $25 million in extra revenue!

This made me think. I was making millions of dollars for other people! If I could start a company, I could make millions for myself.

It was time to start a business.

My sister’s boyfriend (now my sister’s husband), Hiten Shah, and I went in together and founded an Internet marketing company.


Now we were on to something.


I made my first million. And I lost my first million

The money started coming in. We were gaining incredible referrals from my previous employer, and getting amazing results for our clients.

We took the money, invested some, saved some, and tried to branch out into other businesses.

By this time, I was in college “full-time.” What this meant was that I spent all my time trying to grow our new businesses. I only showed up for my college classes when I felt like it (which wasn’t often.)

I was driven by a single goal — make a million bucks.

I was absolutely crushing it with my business, but I wasn’t drawing a salary for myself or enjoying the money.

That’s when it happened. At age 21, I had achieved my goal of making my first million bucks.

It hardly registered with me. Money had begun to lose meaning. What was money, but just a bunch of numbers, invoices, payables, and accounts?

Around then was when I made another big mistake. It cost me a million bucks, and almost threw me out of the entrepreneurial game.

With an ill-conceived business plan and an immature investing decision, I flushed a million dollars down the toilet.

But thankfully, I recovered. In less than a year, I made back all the money that I lost. And kept making more, and more, and more.


I started to live like a millionaire “should.”

When you spend your entire life chasing money, you eventually stop and think, “Okay, what’s the point of all this money?”

I knew the point. Or at least I thought I knew the point. The point was to enjoy it, right? I spent twenty years chafing against my middle-class existence. Now I could rise above it all and truly enjoy life.

Nice stuff would make me happy, right?

I started enjoying nice stuff.

I leased a helicopter to get me where I wanted to go.

I chose the best seats on airplanes.


I lived in a luxury hotel. It was super expensive, but it was also convenient and helped me stay productive.


I became enamored of expensive watches, and so I started collecting them. One of the Patek’s I bought cost $100,000.


I bought clothes — nice clothes. Spending a few thousand dollars on a sweater or a pair of shoes was no big deal. Besides, it made me look wealthier. Just my briefcase cost more than $3,000.


Food? Why not go for the best? I didn’t mind spending several thousand dollars for a meal at Joël Robuchon.


I experienced luxury accommodations at a whole new level when I bought an apartment overlooking the Vegas Strip.


I was surrounded by the benefits of my hard work.

I had some of the nicest things that money could buy.

None of it made me happy.

I was experiencing all the things that money can provide — the clothes, the accommodations, the transportation, the jewelry, the food.

But none of those things were deeply satisfying.

Sure, it felt good at first. I could casually hand over my Amex Centurion Card and spend more than a thousand dollars on one Tom Ford shirt.

But then it felt like no big deal. The thrill was gone. It got kind of boring, actually. What was happening? Wasn’t this what I had worked so hard for?

I realized that my entire life goal — rising from my middle class environment and making millions of dollars — didn’t satisfy me at all.

After making my first, second, third, etc., million, here is what I learned:

  • Money comes and money goes.
  • You can easily lose money.
  • Money itself doesn’t provide happiness.
  • The things that money can buy do not provide happiness.

What good is money, anyway?

Experiencing wealth has taught me something, even if it didn’t make me happy.

I learned about the source of true happiness.

Not everyone will have the same experience. For me, however, I learned that happiness comes from things other than money.

Friends and family.

Money can’t buy friends and family. When I earned millions of dollars, my parents were there. When I lost millions of dollars, my parents were still there.


I can hold on to my friends, even without money.

No matter how rich or poor I am, I can always gain joy and satisfaction from my relationships.

Less stuff.

Stuff stresses us out. When I decided to get rid of my stuff and live as a minimalist, I began to enjoy life more.


Luxury items come and go. My Patek watch could get cracked, and my Dolce sunglasses might get scratched. Stuff doesn’t last.

I’d rather own less and live more.


Money can buy experiences. But the life experiences that provide the most joy aren’t yacht ownership or swanky Mediterranean resorts. Simple vacations with loved ones can bring ten times more joy than an exotic cruise.

Going to see a local museum or attraction is an experience that can provide just as much meaningful memories as spending an extravagant weekend at a casino.

My favorite experiences have been the ones that cost very little money — experiences with family and friends.

Helping others

When I bought a $100k watch, I felt nothing. No joy. No satisfaction. No happiness.

But when I donated money to charity or built a school for underprivileged kids, I felt everything. I felt excited. I felt joyful. I felt alive. I felt like I was finally using my money for its intended purpose.

Closing the deal on my multi-million dollar luxury condo hardly gave me a smile. But when I paid for someone’s college tuition, it brought a smile to their face. And that smile was priceless.

I began to use my money for meaningful things — building schools, paying for other’s medical treatments, and contributing to disaster relief.

I used to be passionate about spending money on myself. I thought that, somehow, I would finally experience fulfillment and joy. However, my most joyful spending experiences were when I spent money on other people.

Making my first million wasn’t as thrilling as I thought it would be. The more money I made, the less it really mattered.

What I learned after banking my first million dollars was that happiness isn’t found in the money at all. Instead, happiness is found in helping others change their life. Best of all, you don’t always need to make or spend money to help others.


This article was written by Neil Patel from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Neil Patel

Neil Patel's infographics appear here courtesy of Quick Sprout, Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 online marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. He was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 by the United Nations. Neil has also been awarded Congressional Recognition from the United States House of Representatives. For more info about him and his work visit Quick Sprout